PBS's Now with Bill Moyers last week aired a report on a leak to a Washington, D.C.-based journalism nonprofit (The Center for Public Integrity) of a proposed Justice Department document that would update and sharply expand 2001's Patriot Act.
According to both CPI and the Moyers report, while existence of the draft was widely rumored in the capital for months, even the heads of relevant congressional committees had not seen details before CPI's publication of the draft. Only Vice President Dick Cheney and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert are known to have been sent advance copies.
After perusing the 120-page "not for circulation" document (available online at the CPI Web site), it's understandable why the Justice Department would want to keep the proposed legislation under wraps. The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 is loaded with proposed laws that should scare the bejesus out of freedom-loving Americans, liberal and conservative.
Herewith a sampling:
The federal government would be able to declare individuals, whether or not they are citizens, to be official enemies with whom the United States is at war. This would enable the federal government to hold any citizen indefinitely, without criminal charges, judicial review, or access to an attorney or any other outside party. All the government must do is declare that individual to be someone with whom the United States is (knowingly or not) at war.
Publicizing information on government detainees would be prohibited. In other words, any publicity given to detainees or their cases would be illegal. Freedom of Information Act requests could be denied and leaks considered crimes. It is no less than the legalization of secret arrests.
A DNA database would be kept of suspected "terrorists." Because there will be no outside check on this secret information, anyone and everyone could be included in the database.
The federal government would have the power to supersede all state-level bans on certain types of law enforcement surveillance. Courts would also be limited in their ability to issue injunctions against such activities.
Several crimes would become newly eligible for the federal death penalty.
The legislation is still "proposed" and in a draft form, but it is clearer than ever that the current administration has no qualms about further limiting Americans' civil liberties. We urge you to visit the CPI Web site. If you are as appalled as we are, we suggest you contact your federal legislators immediately and urge them to oppose further destruction of the Constitution and our legal system. The proposed expansion of the Patriot Act is anything but patriotic. It's terrifying.